EDITORIAL: Save whatever you can

Engineer’s approach the right one to take

Blog Entry June 24, 2014

Bill Wilson is the editorial director of ROADS & BRIDGES magazine and has been covering the industry since 1999. He has won seven Robert F. Boger Awards for editorial excellence, including three in 2011. He also was the creator of the Top 10, Contractor's Choice Awards and Recycling Awards platforms, as well as ROADS & BRIDGES Live.

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I saw a basketball hoop before the circling barbed wire. I was close to Mark Zimmerman, but had no idea I would share his mindset, if only for a brief moment.


There is a halfway house, complete with half-court entertainment, in Seneca County, Ohio, about 1,000 ft from the DOT offices. I do not normally come across men attempting to land jump shots while wearing jumpsuits, so the activity commanded my attention as we approached Zimmerman’s work in the rural patch of the Buckeye State.


Zimmerman is the lead engineer in Seneca County, one who is proud to say, “The public hired me to be their county engineer, and that is what I am going to do; I’m going to engineer for them.” He is one who sees the good through all of the bad. Deteriorating bridges still carry potential even though they can no longer carry the traffic loads they were originally designed to handle. He’s a preservationist, which means he paints with a green brush. To some, the environmentally friendly tone can come across as a bit harsh, but Zimmerman’s approach should be allowed to multiply, and I am certain there are several DOTs across the country where the conditions are perfect.


About five years ago a steel truss bridge not far from the Seneca DOT headquarters—and that halfway house with a hoop—was facing a possible demise. Zimmerman, however, thought the idea of demolishing the structure and starting anew was a crime, so he decided to save it. The span was built in the 1940s and showed all kinds of decay, so Zimmerman made the decision to remove the trusses and have them galvanized, and then placed them back in their original positions. Since no work had to be done in the water, environmental permits were not necessary, and the job also did not require the purchase of any additional right-of-way. Zimmerman simply closed the bridge to traffic, worked his magic and then took a bow. The process saved the county almost $300,000, and the momentum began to build.


Wooden bridge decks also have felt the Zimmerman touch. Seneca County has a lot of them, and when it was discovered that leaks in the timber were destroying the stringers, the call was made to waterproof the decks with a thin asphalt lining.


Old stone abutments also are being recycled for the greater good. Many of them have been used for highway retaining walls.


The Seneca County courthouse was demolished four years ago, and it is still being spread all throughout the region, thanks to Zimmerman’s foresight. For $2 a ton, the lead engineer had the material ground up and stashed in his maintenance yard. Courthouse fill is being used under culverts, bridges and alongside roads, and the fine dust is lying on youth baseball fields. Half of the pile still exists, and Zimmerman estimates he saved well over $200,000 on aggregate costs.


Old mowers can still be a sharp budget-cutting weapon, too. Seneca County recently turned an aging flail mower into an asphalt grinder so crews could perform road patching.


I know there are more Mark Zimmerman’s out there in the road and bridge industry, but there are still not enough of them. Zimmerman spent some time in Crawford County, Ohio, in an effort to promote his massive recycling reach. This is truly a grassroots effort, and is a game that needs to be spread, whether it’s one on one, two on two or a situation that involves an entire team. R&B

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